A transforaminal injection is an injection of a long-acting corticosteroid into a foramen of the spine, the place where a nerve root exits. The procedure is performed to relieve back pain and numbness in an attempt to avoid surgical intervention. The injection helps to reduce inflammation and swelling which not only relieves pain, but restores sensation and improves mobility. Transforaminal injections are most successful for patients with radicular back pain, or pain that radiates down the arms or legs. They do not work as effectively on other types of back or neck pain.
Transforaminal injections are administered with the patient lying facedown. The patient is injected with opaque dye so that surgeon can be guided by fluoroscopy during the procedure. The combination of brighter images to enhance the area for visualization and the use of a smaller needle than the type typically used to administer epidural injections, help to ensure precision.
A transforaminal injection consists of a small dosage of corticosteroid medication mixed with saline and local anesthesia. The anesthesia numbs the area so the discomfort caused by the actual injection is minimal. This local anesthesia also provides immediate, but temporary, relief from the original back pain. The effective relief produced by the corticosteroid takes a few days to be noticeable, but once experienced provides much longer-lasting comfort. As the inflammation at the site is reduced by the steroid medication, the alleviation of symptoms can last for several months.
In spite of the welcome relief from symptoms many patients experience from transforaminal injections, there are serious risks associated with such treatment. Not approved by the FDA, these injections may result in infections and debilitating neurological damage in some patients. Many medical professionals consider the risks of transforaminal injections to outweigh their benefits.